Pre-Purchase Examinations Guidance Notes

Pinkham Equine vets have significant experience in providing 5-stage pre-purchase examinations (PPEs), as well as attending thoroughbred and sport horse sales.

The PPE or ‘vetting’ is an assessment of the horse based on a recognised examination carried out in two or five stages (although all stages may not be completed if the horse fails the examination at one of the early stages). It provides an assessment of the horse at the time of examination, to assist your decision to purchase, or not, and is an indication, not a guarantee, of a horse’s suitability for your intended use.

5-Stage Vetting

Ther only type of vetting that gives you a full assessment of the horse and that is a full 5-stage examination. Other shorter examinations (termed two-stage vettings) leave out certain elements of the 5-stage vetting and therefore may not give you as full and complete an analysis of your chosen horse.

The 5-stage vetting is an examination carried out on an individual day, and the opinion of the vet relates to that day – longer term warranty or guarantee of future health of the horse cannot be expected.

The 5-stage pre-purchase examination involves the following:

Stage 1 – Preliminary Examination

A thorough physical examination is carried out, which starts with the vet observing the horse’s behaviour, checking the horse against its passport, and scanning for a microchip. Eyes are examined with an ophthalmoscope in a darkened stable and the vet will carry out auscultation of the heart and lungs, as well as checking the horse’s teeth. The horse is checked all over for any abnormalities, including lumps, bumps, swellings, and scars. This examination also encompasses palpation of all distal limb joints, tendons and ligaments and flexion of the head and neck, and palpation of the back and pelvis and any observations that may impact the horse’s ability to do its intended job are noted.

Stage 2 – Walk and Trotting Up In-Hand

The horse is then observed walking and trotting in hand and being lunged on hard and soft surfaces, providing that the premises has adequate facilities to permit this. Flexion tests are also performed assuming the demeanour of the horse allows.

Stage 3 – Exercise Phase

Subsequently the horse is seen ridden at walk, trot, canter and, if appropriate, gallop. Ridden exercise may highlight subtle lameness, whilst strenuous exercise will increase the heart and respiratory rates which may reveal any abnormalities in the heart rate, rhythm or murmurs, or abnormal respiratory sounds.

Stage 4 – Rest and Re-examination

The horse is then observed during the recovery phase, and the cardiovascular and respiratory systems are reassessed as they return to resting levels.

Stage 5 – Second Trot Up

The trot up is then repeated to assess the effects of a period of exercise on the horse’s soundness.

5-stage PPES or ‘vettings’ are recommended for all riding horses.

Drug Screen blood sampling is recommended for all vettings. The blood sample is stored for 6 months following the vetting and may be tested in the event of any concerns arising after purchase.

Additional procedures that may be included in a vetting are X-rays to assess joints and other parts of the skeleton, ultrasonography to survey soft tissue structures and endoscopy to assess the horse’s airway.

These additional services are generally requested for high value horses, to meet insurance conditions, if the client has a particular concern about the prospective purchase or if any abnormalities are observed during the vetting that warrant further investigation.

The aim of a vetting is to assess both the condition of the horse, and its suitability for the intended purpose. A thorough discussion with the purchaser regarding their intended use of the horse and any concerns they may have is a vital part of the pre-purchase examination process. The aim is to ensure that your new horse is suitable for you and that your purchase results in a successful future together.

Pinkham Equine also offers examinations for insurance purposes, as well as breeding soundness examinations of broodmares and stallions for both sales and insurance criteria.

Please note that limited two-stage pre-purchase examinations are also available and may be appropriate in some circumstances (e.g. youngstock) and may be booked by contacting the office on 01722 741188.

Notes relating to the Pre-Purchase Examination

The purchase of any horse involves the taking of a risk; unfortunately, horse purchase and ownership is not risk free. The aim of a pre-purchase examination (vetting) is to do our best to identify, assess and quantify that risk, so that you may come to an informed decision as to whether to proceed with your intended purchase. By the time that you have arranged a pre-purchase examination (PPE or vetting) you will have already chosen that particular horse.

In other words, you have considered colour, type, height, temperament and experience and decided that the horse will be suitable for your equestrian needs. The purpose of the vetting is to assess suitability for intended use from a veterinary medical perspective. We no longer classify horses as ‘sound’ and ‘unsound’ or indeed as ‘passing’ or ‘failing’ the vetting. Rather, veterinary surgeons’ advice regarding purchase depends on whether the defects noted are, or are not, likely to prejudice the animal’s intended use.

Ensure that you discuss your requirements with the examining vet before the vetting. It may also be beneficial to be present at the time of the examination.

Additional Procedures

Radiography (X-Ray)

If requested, radiography of specific joints will be performed after the conclusion of the pre-purchase examination. If the horse is to be insured, it is recommended that the radiographs are sent to the insurance company for examination by their veterinary advisor prior to purchase of the horse.


An ultrasonographic examination of the tendons and ligaments of the lower limb may be requested.


Examination of the upper airways of the horse may be performed using an endoscope, after the horse has been exercised.


Blood is taken from the horse using a kit provided by the Veterinary Defence Society, and subsequently sent to the LGC laboratory near Newmarket. The blood is available to be tested for the presence sedatives, painkillers, anti-inflammatories and other drugs within the horse at the time of the examination. The blood is typically stored (and is thus available for testing) for 6 months post vetting, or immediate testing may be requested at the time of the examination.

Additional blood tests are available to determine the horse’s status with regard to certain infectious diseases, general health and suitability for export. If you require these, please request them in the form and the veterinary surgeon will contact you to discuss your requirements.

Oral Examination

The veterinary surgeon will examine the incisors and palpate for the presence of wolf teeth. Palpation of the first cheek teeth may also be possible, but a more detailed examination of the dentition of the horse requires sedation of the horse, and use of a speculum (gag), plus additional equipment, and does not form part of the pre-purchase examination.